I finally got ahold of the guy fabricating my exhaust elbows (Ali, Eric Bauhaus’ father). He said he was busy so they’d be late, and he raised the price. No problem though; he’s well known for his skill fabricating, the parts from Volvo were even more expensive, and I’m going to end up with a better product this way (stainless rather than cast-iron). So when they were done, I left Luke on the boat and headed back to Panama City with another long list of boat parts, the primary ones being the exhaust elbows.
I spent the first day in Panama City looking for a diesel compression tester. I visited every halfway decent auto-parts store in the city – a couple had basic kits, but none had the correct adapters. Not great news. Next up were a couple more (32’ long) Teleflex cables – I wanted all new cables and a spare (one less thing to worry about). Naturally I could only find 34’ and 36’ cables, and they were dramatically more expensive than I’d expected – so I passed, hoping to find the right size/price cables elsewhere.
Then I needed fuel line, blower tubing, electric fuel pumps, chemicals to convert rust, etc. Two more stops and I had about 1/3 of what I needed. Then everything was closed and I was starving. I went to the Surf Hostel. I took a room, changed into board shorts and soaked in the pool. Then I grabbed a cheap sandwich. I was planning a quiet night writing, reading, or doing some research. But that wasn’t in the cards.
Challenges in Civilization
On the way back from Subway a few girls yelled at me to come and have a drink with them. There was a moment of internal struggle: quiet night in, or drink with the group of girls. I chose what was behind Door Number Two.
We talked, they asked 20 questions, I answered, we drank. I went back to my room and changed, where I bumped into the owner of the hostel. We were friends, I asked him to come, he said he was planning on it. Soon enough we were in a bar, with decent music. Then more girls came, then some guys, then some other friends of mine from another time in Panama City randomly showed up. Then we started moving around. A purse was stolen. Most folks went home. Four of us went to Casco Viejo, where another purse was stolen and recovered. Then back to the hostel, where we decided to visit the pool – and I dove in with my phone in my pocket. Genius.
I woke up feeling meh, with a soaking wet phone and no way to get ahold of Ali, the guy fabricating my exhaust elbows. Immediately I took the phone to a repair store, where they told me it was worthless (I hated that phone, so I agreed). I bought a new phone, installed my SIM card and… No numbers. Or, let me correct that – some numbers. So I signed into my Google account hoping for the rest of my contacts – no dice. I was stuck with very, very old contacts; none of which did me any good in Panama City. So I started problem solving, and while I was tracking down my fabricator’s phone number, Ali called me.
We met at the mall. I was late due to traffic and a taxi driver with an IQ in the mid teens. Ali looks like some cross between a sailor, a mechanic, and the last living Grateful Dead fan. He’s drinking coffee, I’m starving – but since I am late there’s no time for food. He starts fidgeting, and I realize that pink backpack he has on his lap actually has a puppy in it. So I speed up the conversation. Then his daughter bumps into us. More conversation, I’m ready to start back to Puerto Lindo. Then it turns out he forgot the gasket material I needed for these parts in his car. I follow him to his car, carrying the pink backpack with the puppy in it. It was a sight worth seeing.
The gaskets aren’t in Ali’s car – must be in his dinghy on the other side of Panama City. No problem, let’s go. We go, we talk while waiting in traffic, we agree on a surprising number of moderately deep issues. But now it’s getting late and I still need those longer Teleflex cables. So on the way we drop by a marine store. They’re closing, I plead – so they let me in. I ask for the cables, they bring out cables that are 20’. I need 32’. They say they don’t have them. Then someone appears with two 34’ cables. I sigh in relief and ask how much. They tell me over $150/cable. I rescind my sigh of relief. They agree to a discount, I pay, they dawdle, I eventually leave.
Finally we make it to the dinghy. Find the gaskets. Now I need to get back across Panama City to my car, so I can shop and then drive back across Panama to Puerto Lindo. Made it back, jumped in the car, and I was finally off.
I left Panama City with no pictures, some of the boat-parts, and only a portion of my dignity.
Heading Back Home
Of course, the adventure wasn’t over. On the way back I was pulled over by the police. This isn’t good. Especially considering I was alone, having a minor issue with my visa, and in a car that had more faults than working lights. I pulled over, and immediately started sending Luke a Facebook message letting him know that if he didn’t hear back from me soon – to start calling police stations. You know, just in case.
The cop walked back, asked for my license. I provided it. He then asked for my passport, which I made a show of not being able to find. I was, afterall, in a car that was completely full of boat-parts – so it was believable. So he walked back and started writing on his pad. I put my passport somewhere out of sight. The Dumb Gringo is often the best weapon in times like these. So I played it to the max. He came back, asked a couple of questions. I smiled and answered in intentionally broken Spanish. He handed me a piece of paper, signaled to slow down, and said “that’s all.” Off the hook.
Then I did the last bit of real shopping before the trip. The biggest concern was cheese. I got that, and some other less necessary items like ground beef. Then the car was full. Really, really full.
I arrived back in Puerto Lindo with too much stuff in my heap-of-rust car. Luke was drinking at Hans’ restaurant with The Russian. Originally we met The Russian in San Blas. The Russian is younger than us and has a little, simple, 30 foot monohull. He spends much less time working on his boat, and can speak fluent English, Spanish, and Russian. He’s also brutally straight-forward and you can quite easily tell when he’s over a given subject or conversation. I haven’t met enough Russians to know if this is a country-wide trait (that’s a damn big country, too).
The Russian was in the middle of a story about his trip to Colon. Colon is a nearby city we visit from time to time. Not a fun place, actually more like a war-zone than a city. Poverty, crime, and not much to redeem it. Well, in Colon they’d tried to mug The Russian. But he’d had his boat-papers and his passport with him – and they didn’t have a knife or a gun out. So they tussled a little and The Russian ended up flat on his back in an alley, but luckily he was wearing a backpack with his important stuff. And when you’re flat on your back, a backpack is relatively difficult to steal. The attackers gave up after everyone started screaming, The Russian only suffered a broken computer. He got lucky. There are more than a couple of people that have been poked by rather large knives in Colon, in similar scenarios.
I drank a beer, and mentally prepared to load everything in the car into the dinghy and head across 3 foot seas, in the dark. It was going to be a wet, slow, ride to the mothership. From there – we begin boat work in earnest. Including days in the engine room and hours 60 feet in the air.